Roll off: Sudden Death or Drawn Out?

Sudden Death
Sudden Death

Like most rational human beings, I hope I don’t die for a long time. But without being too macabre, I do think about death occasionally. Every once in a while someone will ask the question, “How do you want to die?”

I’ve never been able to come up with a specific way to die that sounds, I don’t know, desirable. But I’ve often said something like, “suddenly,” or “without any suffering.”

About three years ago, I lost two childhood friends. One died instantly of a heart attack in his sleep. One day here, the next day gone. The other died after a long battle with cancer.

I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to my friend who died of a heart attack. But I rationalize that he didn’t have to suffer.

My other friend suffered with cancer for over five years. As we approached the end, I was able to visit her in the hospital and say goodbye. It gave me a good feeling to be able to have one last conversation with her, but I hated that she had to suffer for so long.

Sudden death

While rolling off a project is a whole lot different than death, how you roll off does have some parallels. I’ve been on projects where someone is told at the end of the day (invariably a Friday) that their contract is being terminated. This sometimes occurs based on poor performance by the consultant, but I’ve seen it as a matter of course. Managers can be heartless at times.

When the consultant is removed due to sudden death, many of their co-workers don’t find out until Monday morning. They may find the consultant’s empty desk. There may be a farewell email. Sometimes, the client will send out a sterile email noting that, “Bob’s not here anymore. Please see Mary for any questions you had for Bob.”

Depending on how close you were to “Bob,” you might call or text him. You might just stay connected to him on LinkedIn. You may just put your head down and hope that you’re not next.

This is a terrible way to be removed from a project from the consultant’s perspective. He is left with no real chance to say goodbye other than an impersonal email.

Drawn out painful death

On the other end of the spectrum, some people know they will roll off months in advance. Sometimes when we know a contract will be ending, there is always the chance that it could be extended. But sometimes, the consultant knows that in six weeks, she is done.

This can result in awkward moments, as people talk about plans beyond the consultant’s time on the project. Every team outing involves a toast to the departing consultant.

It also can involve a checked-out consultant who is spending work time finding her new gig. Team members who know the consultant is on the death march continually ask, “When are you done?”

The appropriate timing

The nature of consulting is that it is temporary. Some consultants serve the same client for years. Some have more seniority than many full-time employees. But almost all consultants move on at some time. It’s part of the reason they are consultants.

So what is the appropriate notification period for a consultant roll-off?

Like any consultant, my answer is, ”It depends.” Ideally, two weeks is the standard. This gives the consultant and her teammates time to do the following:

  • Complete and/or document any in-flight work
  • Transfer knowledge to existing teammates
  • Have a going away lunch or happy hour for the outgoing consultant

There are extenuating circumstances. Be sure to check your consulting agreement to determine how much notice must be given. Some contacts stipulate up to a month of notice.

Independent consultants often have to find their own clients. If your consultant is independent and has been serving the client for a long time, it’s a professional courtesy to give them ample time, up to a month, to find their next project.

Conclusion

Consultants join projects knowing that someday they will roll off. One of the reason’s people like consulting is for the variety of projects and client settings.

When rolling a consultant off of a project, it is best for all involved to give an appropriate warning for everyone. Just make sure that the warning doesn’t go on too long.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Related Posts
Consulting Skill: Focus on the Client
The 1998 baseball season was the most exciting season that I can remember.  Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire went head-to-head in a home run race that ended with them both ...
READ MORE
Hallway Conversations
The work from home trend has taken off. According to CNN Money, the number of people telecommuting has increased 115% in the last decade. A number of indicators show that that ...
READ MORE
Copy the right people
I heard a consultant talking the other day about a client experience he had. He had a client laptop issued to him. He carried it home with him every night ...
READ MORE
3 Ways to Establish Consultant Credibility
Something that a consultant always strives for with their client is credibility.  That’s why client sales proposals almost always include things like the history of the firm and their previous ...
READ MORE
Consultants Give Clients a Kick in the Seat of the Pants
There are many types of consultants. Some consultants strictly give advice.  They may perform a study of the client’s internal processes, review their financials and submit a report detailing the changes ...
READ MORE
Be a bridge for the client
I’m very fortunate to work for a consulting firm in which my engagement manager and client communicate on a regular basis. That hasn’t always been the case. Engagement managers get ...
READ MORE
The Stone Soup Approach to Consulting
The old folk story of stone soup is about three vagrant travelers passing through a small town with nothing but a cooking pot. They ask residents of the town for ...
READ MORE
Client Relations for Consultants
“I’m just a programmer. I’ve only been brought in here to write code for this client.” That’s the general attitude I’ve gotten from many consultants on past projects. Some consultants just ...
READ MORE
7 Ways to Kill Client Trust
Trust in a consulting relationship is highly overrated.  All you really have to do is give them the hard sell, play a little hard-to-get and soon you’ll have them eating ...
READ MORE
Importance of Feedback
I have a friend who is one of the nicest and kindest people I know. Unfortunately, she gives off a bad first impression. Although she rarely has a cross word ...
READ MORE
Consulting Skill: Focus on the Client
The Lost Art of Hallway Conversations
Using a client laptop
3 Ways to Establish Consultant Credibility
Consultants Give Clients a Kick in the Seat
Are you a bridge for the client?
The Stone Soup Approach to Consulting
Client Relations for Consultants
7 Ways to Kill Client Trust
The Importance of Feedback